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FEATURE STORYJanuary 27, 2023

Infrastructure, a sector ripe for government efficiencies

Construction workers in Jamaica

Construction workers are improving road and water infrastructure in Steer Town, Jamaica. The works are carried out under the Integrated Community Development Project (ICDP), which seeks to make Jamaican vulnerable communities cleaner and safer. 

Photo: Mariana Kaipper Ceratti/World Bank


  • The relative strength or weakness of the governance environment can determine how developed a country’s infrastructure is.
  • Infrastructure is an area where the government of the future can potentially demonstrate its efficacy, in terms of the ideal role of government, how it should deliver, and gain citizen’s trust simultaneously.
  • To make progress governments need to understand the governance constraints to infrastructure management and delivery they face.

Different levels of infrastructure in countries can be explained by unique pre-conditions that every country faces, including geographic traits and financial resources. As the figures below illustrates, huge infrastructure quality and spending gaps remain between countries. Crucially, pre-conditions also include different politicians’ and constituencies’ perceptions of the ideal policy combination on the one hand, and the right incentives for infrastructure development on the other. In other words, the relative strength or weakness of the governance environment can determine how developed a country’s infrastructure is. These governance differences across countries are especially visible in regulated industries where services are essential and the risk of market failure is high, such as in water and electricity utilities, ports, toll roads, and airports.


Often, incentives and special interests determine which public infrastructure investments are realized – these projects do not necessarily yield the social and economic benefits that their costs and prestige would warrant. More useful projects do not always provide as much status for politicians. However, as demonstrated by the figure below, the strength of public sector management and institutions is highly correlated with the quality of overall infrastructure across the globe. Thus, the key for any future government is to achieve the necessary political buy-in for less politically prestigious infrastructure projects, such as sewage systems rather than giant airports.



Quality of overall infrastructure, 1-7 (best), Index, 2017

Source: GovData360

How governments can incentivize

Governments of the future can accomplish this by coalition-building and providing stakeholders with a greater role in the planning and design of infrastructure projects. While this process may initially be more time consuming, it can contribute to greater overall citizen satisfaction. Countries that have a well-developed stakeholder consensus building system are oftentimes as efficient in infrastructure development as countries with no such system. If projects are designed and implemented against the will of the public, demonstrations and political pushback can lead to gridlock. This happened in the German sub-terrain rail station Project Stuttgart 21 (see source for more information), which was massively delayed and incurred much higher costs due to the lack of coalition-building by local and state politicians.

Moreover, the social contract between governments and citizens may break down when governments fail in their role to provide critical infrastructure. This invariably leads to a crisis in trust as well as a crisis emanating from the infrastructure failure itself. A potent example of this is the water crisis that recently affected Jackson, Mississippi in the United States, where water was no longer safe to drink, not only directly due to flooding at a treatment plant, but because there was little political interest. This example was used on countless occasions in social media to demonstrate how the political system misallocates public resources and became an embarrassment for many politicians across different administrations.

Understanding the governance constraints that impact on infrastructure is therefore critical. The Infrastructure Governance Assessment Framework – or InfraGov for short - can help governments identify and understand such constraints and develop local solutions to address them.


Infrastructure Governance Assessment Framework:

Leapfrogging: the key to Africa’s development? From constraints to opportunities:

Rethinking Power Sector Reform in the Developing World:

Dealing with Politics for Money and Power in Infrastructure:


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